When you could, but you can’t – What is competence?


At Motorola I received leadership training and was involved in the budgeting process. This was because the hierarchies there were pretty flat. I’ve only worked for a very short period as a manager – for a different company. We separated and I turned back into software engineering and became a freelance consultant. Mostly I consulted in R&D organizations. But I’ve made my experiences there and learned additional lessons.
No, if potential employers read this, this is not an application as a manager. This is not my business. 

There are some tough facts about leadership: Good managers attract good  staff and bad managers attract bad staff.

It starts with competence.
A competent manager doesn’t only assign objectives and responsibilities, he also empowers his staff and provides them with the necessary authority, so that they can make decisions.
And of course in the first go, his manager did the same. He/she provided him with the authority to pass on authority

In short: This is competence.

Competence is built of several components:

  • The person is well trained and possess the necessary personal traits
  • the person  is assigned the according responsibility AND
  • the person also receives the complementing authority

Without authority there is no competence. So we have three key terms:

  • competence
  • responsibility
  • authority

and of course, the person in charge needs to possess the necessary personal traits and training. But there is one more.

In the event of the lack of competence on any level of the hierarchy, it happens, that instances of a hierarchy create the necessary competence. If they don’t an organization will suffer damage. Usually these instances are at the top levels of a hierarchy. The competence to assign competences is called “Kompetenz kompetenz“. In healthy organizations, the top leadership possess this additional competence. This means, they also possess the necessary training, leadership skills and overview to act when it’s due and start new processes, assign objectives and competences to get things accomplished.

If they fail, it’s only a matter of time, when correction comes from outside. We see that, when for instance when a high court corrects legislation and itself creates hands down a rule that gives legislation until the legislative power has done its work.

When a company fails to act or evolve its processes often enough external auditors (tax, custom, health…. whatever) step in to enforce necessary correction.

In many respects this external force doesn’t apply. This is, when we talk about project – or program management, system architecture and system design, nursing in a hospital or a care facility, processing of applications in any office. Whenever the managers at any level down to the team leader do not possess the necessary competence the drawbacks are immediate. Staff looses motivation, efforts aren’t estimated correctly, deadlines are missed……. Actually no professional organization can effort these things to happen. There are organizations where it usually works better: Mil

If your organization is messy, in the military this has instant drawbacks. But as soon as it’s only about the weal and woe of a civil organization, suddenly well trained personnel starts to let it slip. Afterwards we complain a lot, but often enough “we” fail when we still could build success.

I still don’t have a cure for all that. I can only appeal to higher management hierarchies to consider the issues of competence and act accordingly.